I've said it before, I'll say it again: only a fool looks for a lawyer on Google unless there is no other option. Rational people look for lawyers based on referrals from people they trust, or other reliable sources with a basis for knowledge.
But the nation is choked with lawyers, and not all of those lawyers generate enough satisfied clients to lead to referrals. Increasingly, just as we all rely on the internet for information and entertainment, lawyers rely on the internet to market, and clients rely on the internet (foolishly) to look for lawyers.
As a consequence, there is a thriving industry of people who will teach lawyers how to attract clients not by doing top-notch work and satisfying clients but by optimizing their web sites to achieve superior positions in search results. These "internet professionals" could be teaching people to sell porn or off-brand viagra or widgets or anything else — they offer search engine optimizing (often dubious), not practice optimizing.
The result is, to be blunt, crap, unless you are running a high-volume low-quality legal practice — a law mill. Hits based on search results — like hits based on buying overpriced listing services from dinosaurs like Martindale-Hubbel — are often an utter waste of time for both lawyer and potential client.
But many lawyers don't grasp that, and many marketeers are still eager to make money, and so the steady hum of demeaning marketing bullshit continues. Sometimes it leads to worst practices like lawyer comment spam. Other times it leads to more personal grotesque behavior.
Eric Turkewitz — one of the most important critics of bad legal marketing on the internet — has an excellent recent example. He updated a recent "why I blog" post with commentary about some truly jaw-dropping marketeer advice. He points us to this terrifyingly awful advice at Avvo's "Lawyernomics" blog by Aaron Kelly. I really don't expect Avvo to improve the quality of legal services in America — in fact, I expect them to degrade that quality — but even I was stunned by this.
Here's Aaaron's lawyer marketing premise:
“Content is King!”
Believe it or not, that three-letter phrase is the most important thing to remember about marketing your law firm online – because publishing quality web content can lead to higher search rankings, which usually translates into a longer client roster.
This starts out as bad advice, because it presumes that higher search rankings lead to more and higher quality clients. Once again, this isn't true, unless you run a mill churning out generic, low-complexity, low-quality work.
But it gets worse. So, so much worse.
Check out the best of the rest:
Web content should be SEO optimized, meaning each article or blog post should have a keyword focus. For example, if your practice focuses on bankruptcy law, all the Web content you publish should use keyword phrases related to bankruptcy law.
When it comes to web content speed and volume are important. As such, it’s important to temper your literary expectations and sacrifice some elegance in favor of volume.
Since a premium is placed on speed, many web content articles may not be as polished as print-journalism pieces, as there’s often very little time for editing or research. But on the upside, since web content takes less time, it often costs less than freelance print articles.
At this point you may be thinking, “there’s no way I can afford to have a writer provide tons of content for me!” Don’t worry, web content writer rates are usually a lot less than a traditional freelance writers’ rates. Moreover, there are several established content mills where you can purchase articles for pennies on the word.
Considering Google’s new-found love for quality web content, it’s important that everything you publish is at least of “good” quality.
Notice how I didn’t say “great.”
That’s right, not everything you publish has to be perfect; sometimes it can be “just good enough” so long as it’s readable and contains the right amount of keywords. Be sure, however, to publish at least two or three great pieces a week, as it improves your online credibility. Besides, you’re a law firm; do you really want sub-par content floating around online, under your moniker?
If you got whiplash with the abrupt change of direction in that last line, you are not alone.
Allow me to be blunt: unless you are running a high-volume low-quality law mill, this is a recipe for a crap sandwich. Yes, high-volume low-quality posts might lead to a higher volume of questionably-suitable clients — though my experience, linked above, is that search results yield twenty to thirty times more wasted time than clients. But even mildly sophisticated consumers will see your web content and think "this person publishes banal crap. Looks like a SEO-based approach. Next lawyer candidate, please." Opposing counsel of any sophistication will scorn you. Mildly sophisticated judges will roll their eyes at you. The only people who hire you based on this approach are people who don't know any better and are susceptible to the lowest forms of legal marketing. If you follow Aaron Kelly's advice, congratulations: you are the Monster Cable of lawyers.
Building a good client base is not something you can do by tweaking your keywords. It's a career-long effort based on building relationships, building credibility, doing good work for clients, getting good results, treating clients fairly, and answering their phone calls. Building a quality client base is not plug-and-play, and if you pay someone to tell you that it is, you're a damned fool with entitlement issues.
I'd like to get Aaron Kelly, and all the other marketeers pushing SEO out there, into a room and look them in the eye and ask them this question: if someone you loved had a serious legal problem, would you tell them to go pick a lawyer from the first page of a Google search result?
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